By Dana Ullman MPH, CCH
My own first homeopath was a San Franciscan physician named Franklin Cookinham. He graduated medical school in 1906 and practiced until 1976, at which time he flew to Athens, Greece, to study with a world-class homeopath. The proper education of a homeopath is life-long.
Before discussing specific information on the education of a homeopath, it is first essential to know that those individuals who practice homeopathy are a mixed assortment of licensed health professionals. Also, there is a small but active group of dedicated unlicensed practitioners of homeopathy.
Some clinicians specialize in homeopathy and prescribe homeopathic medicines to 75-100% of their patients, and there are some practitioners who have not learned the elaborate system of homeopathic medicine and who tend to prescribe these natural medicines for smaller percentage of their patients. Commonly, these latter clinicians are knowledgeable of a smaller number of homeopathic medicines and usually prescribe them for acute, not chronic, ailments.
The greatest number of health professionals who specialize in homeopathy in the Western world are medical doctors. In Europe where homeopathy is one of the leading alternative medicines, it has been estimated that over 30% of French physicians and 20% of German physicians prescribe homeopathic medicines (Fisher and Ward, 1994), that over 40% of British physicians refer patients to homeopathic doctors (Wharton and Lewith, 1986), and that 45% of Dutch physicians consider homeopathic medicines to be effective (Kleijnen, Knipschild and ter Riet, 1991). These significant numbers suggest that it may no longer be appropriate to consider homeopathy to be “alternative medicine” in Europe.
Other licensed professionals in the United States who specialize in homeopathy include naturopathic physicians, chiropractic doctors, acupuncturists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurses. There are also hundreds of veterinarians and dentists who utilize homeopathic medicines for large numbers of their patients.
Because homeopathy is an integral part of naturopathic education, it is common for naturopathic doctors to specialize in homeopathy. There is even a separate organization of naturopath ic homeopaths (The Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians).
In comparison, chiropractors have a tendency to dabble in numerous natural therapies, and thus, even though there may be more chiropractors who prescribe homeopathic medicines than any other health professional in the U.S., only a relatively small number of chiropractors specialize in homeopathy.
In 1990 there were only three training programs in homeopathy and three naturopathic medical schools in the U.S. In 1997, there are over 20 training programs and five naturopathic medical schools (Ullman, 1996).
Commonly, training programs in homeopathy are three or four-year programs, usually consisting of extended weekend (three or four-day) courses that meet every month or every other month. Significant amounts of homework are given and required.
Homeopathic training programs include detailed instruction in homeopathic philosophy, casetaking, case analysis, materia medica, and repertory (materia medica refers to “materials of medicines” used in homeopathy, and repertory refers to important texts/data bases that list the specific medicines that are known to cause a specific symptom in overdose and cure it in homeopathic doses).
Courses that allow unlicensed practitioners to attend them generally require that students seek coursework in anatomy, physiology, and pathology at local colleges.
Although clinical training is not a part of most homeopathic programs at present, a common part of the training is the observation of homeopathic casetaking on video. Instructors start and stop the video to discuss nuances of casetaking and case analysis. Also, students are required to take cases and provide analysis of them, with treatment plans, to their instructors.
Naturopathic education is considerably more structured and detailed. Similar pre-med requirements to get into medical school are required to get into naturopathic school. Naturopathic medical school itself is a four-year full-time program in which the first two years resemble basic science and pathology training that takes place in medical schools. Years three and four, however, are considerably different, for this is when naturopathic students are taught various natural therapies, of which homeopathy is one of the most popular. Approximately 1,000 hours of clinical training is also provided.
Some students and practitioners of homeopathy are unlicensed in any health profession. While some homeopathic training programs require that students have one of the recognized health professional licenses, the majority of homeopathic training programs provide education to anyone who is interested.
In addition to the above mentioned training programs, there are a select number of correspondence courses in homeopathy. Two of the leading correspondence courses were developed in England. Both are two-year programs, one is 350-hours per year and the other is 1,000 hours per year.
There are also mail-order naturopathic programs in which homeopathy is a part; however, these programs are not highly respected, and graduates of these programs are not allowed to sit for licensing examinations for naturopaths in any state, nor are they able to obtain certification from leading homeopathic certification bodies.
The homeopathic certification that exists includes certification for MDs, DOs, and DDSs (American Board of Homeotherapeu tics), for NDs (Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians), for any licensed health professional (Council on Homeopathic Certification), and for anyone who completes a recognized school of homeopathy (North American Society of Homeopaths).
Finally, it should be noted that interest in homeopathy amongst health professionals is growing, and it can be expected that there will be a significant increase in the quantity and quality of homeopathic training in the coming years. One survey of A.M.A. members surprisingly discovered that close to 50% were interested in training in homeopathy (Berman, Hartnoll, Singh, et al, 1997). Needless to say, as homeopathy attains greater popularity and respect from the general public and the medical community, increasingly higher standards of education will be demanded.
Berman, B.M., Hartnoll, S.M., Singh, B.B., Singh, B.K. (1997, July) Homoeopathy and the US primary care physician, British Homoeopathic Journal, 86:131-138.
Fisher, P. and Ward, A. (1994, July 9) Complementary medicine in Europe, British Medical Journal, 309:107-110.
Kleijnen, J., Knipschild, P. and ter Riet, G. (1991, February 9) Clinical trials in homoeopathy, The Lancet.
Ullman, D. (1996) Consumer’s Guide To Homeopathy. New York: Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam.
Wharton, R. and Lewith, G. (1986, June 7) Complementary medicine and the general practitioner, British Medical Journal.